Government Critic Held on Fabricated Charges, Ill-Treated in Custody
(Moscow, September 16, 2008) – Uzbek authorities should drop all charges against a human rights defender and opposition activist who faces politically motivated prosecution and immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said today. The trial against Akzam Turgunov resumes on September 16, 2008 in the remote town of Manget. Human Rights Watch also called on the authorities to ensure that Turgunov gets medical care for burns he suffered from ill-treatment in custody.
“The case against Turgunov sends a chilling message to other activists that working for justice is a dangerous business in Uzbekistan,” said Igor Vorontsov, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the recent release of several other activists, new cases like this one show that any government critic will be dealt with harshly.”
Police in Manget arrested Turgunov, 56, on July 11 on suspicion of extortion under circumstances that seemed to have been staged to frame him. He had originally traveled to Manget, in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic 1,100 kilometers west of Tashkent, in response to a request from a woman to help her with a court case to seek child support payments from her former husband. The woman’s former husband agreed to an out-of-court settlement and arranged to meet Turgunov and the woman’s brother to hand over the money. When a plastic bag supposedly containing the money was handed over to Turgunov, the police appeared and arrested him and the woman’s brother, charging that they had extorted money from the former husband. If convicted of extortion, Turgunov faces up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Turgunov is the chairman of Mazlum (“the oppressed”), a Tashkent-based human rights organization. He has served as a public defender in trials throughout Uzbekistan, including many in Karakalpakstan, in cases involving violations of human rights and civic freedoms.
Turgunov’s trial is not the only politically motivated prosecution ongoing in Uzbekistan. Last week, the trial of Salijon Abdurakhmanov, an independent journalist, began in Nukus, on politically motivated drug charges. These cases are the latest in a long line of prosecutions against government critics. At least 18 human rights defenders, dissidents and journalists remain in prison. Numerous others, fearing for their safety, have fled Uzbekistan to seek asylum abroad. In response to international criticism, the government has released several imprisoned human rights defenders, but harassment and arrests of others continue.